The Brave by James Bird

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The Brave by James Bird (9781250247759)

Collin’s compulsive need to count the letters in everything others say to him and say the number aloud makes it far too easy for bullies to target him at school. It also bothers his father. So when Collin is kicked out of another school, his father decides to send him to live with his mother, who he has never met. She is Ojibwe and lives on a reservation in Minnesota. Collin and his dog head across the county where he finds himself accepted and shown real displays of love for the first time in his life. Collin meets Orenda, the girl next door, who believes that she is transforming into a butterfly and works with Collin to find ways to battle his counting of letters. She lives in her treehouse, a space where Collins spends most of his time as he steadily falls in love with Orenda. But she is not sharing her own difficulties openly with Collin, who must figure out how to support her whether he understands or not.

Bird has drawn on his own Ojibwe heritage to write this debut novel. The book is a deep and rich mix of content that includes finding your real home, falling in love for the first time, and handling grief and loss. It is also about dealing with an OCD-like response, handling bullying, and discovering deeply who you really are inside and what you believe in. All of this is enriched by the Ojibwe culture that Collin experiences for the first time, allowing the reader to do the same by his side.

Bird’s writing is clear and strong. This novel creates a space for the character of Collin to really become himself, while experiencing some of the most important experiences in anyone’s life: love, grief and transformation. Collin himself is a marvelous character who is willing to dive right in and learn, open to new experiences and cultures.

This debut novel is full of courage and honesty. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

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The Way Back by Gavriel Savit (9781984894625)

Yehuda and Bluma grew up near one another in the tiny village of Tupik. But their lives could not have been more different. Bluma was the daughter of the town baker, raised with plenty to eat and an ever-warm hearth. Yehuda spent his time figuring out where his next meal was coming from and trying to stay out of fights. The two find themselves transported to the Far Country. Yehuda is on a quest to find his father’s soul, which has been added to a demon’s collection. Bluma found herself in an endless cemetery, quickly scooped up by a female demon and her group of demon cat-women. Bluma has in her possession a very special object, the spoon that Death used to take her grandmother’s soul. Bluma found it after Death left her home. In the Far Country of the demons, there are different rules, pacts that are made and reworked, lies and truths. It is a world that shifts and changes right in front of Bluma and Yehuda who must find their own way through and back home.

So there is no way to actually summarize this book clearly at all. It is a great twisting and writhing story that the reader simply must give themselves up to and enjoy the journey. There are deaths and there is Death. There are demons who all manipulate and scheme, telling partial truths for their own gain. There are fathers who are trying to find sons and then sons trying to find fathers. There are spoons that cut and remove and libraries with endless knowledge and answers.

This book is less about the two main protagonists and more about the world they enter. Based on Jewish mythology and folklore, this world is full of jagged points, dangers and despair. But it is also basked in love, the joy of unexpected kindness, and the discovery of new old friends. It’s complicated and unique, a world that readers will likely never have visited before, and what a treat that is!

A delicious nightmare of a novel, this is one to make room for in your reading pile. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

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Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri (9781646140008)

Khosrou answers his teacher’s writing prompts with stories of his extended Persian family. He and his older sister and mother immigrated to Oklahoma, often living in a motel while staying away from his mother’s abusive new husband, who she marries and divorces multiple times. The other kids in his class don’t believe his stories. They are full of blood and poop, told by a boy who doesn’t speak or think like them who is unpopular and hairy and whose lunch smells bad. Khosrou’s stories though reveal where he came from, a home with birds in the walls and a family of huge wealth. They show how his mother and sister found Christianity, putting their lives at risk in Iran and the resulting loss of his father, his nation and their status. The story moves between life in Oklahoma, full of bullies and violence to the amazing setting of Iran filled with the smell of jasmine, epic grandparents, and color.

Closely tied to Scheherazade’s story telling in One Thousand and One Nights, this novel is remarkable. Nayeri beautifully uses that framework of a series of stories that lead one to the next, hinting at future tales and never stopping as they move forward. He incorporates stories at so many levels, from poop humor that is a welcome relief (pun intended) to stories of his family in Iran to stories of immense bravery to stories of abuse and fear. It’s a world of stories that shows the tangled lives of immigrants, from what they have lost to what they discover as well.

Nayeri tells his own personal story here. It’s tie to his own childhood is clear, giving the stories an honesty that shines through even when the story is fantastic and wild. The book is like a woven Persian tapestry, though I don’t see the single fault that Nayeri has woven into it. It’s complete and marvelous, a rug of jewels that can still be walked on by us all.

A journey of a book that deeply shows the experience of an Iranian immigrant. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

12 Great New YA Books Arriving in November

Here are some of the great YA books getting released in November. Enjoy!

Beautiful Wild by Anna Godbersen

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer

Lies Like Poison by Chelsea Pitcher

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Odessa by Jonathan Hill

Soulswift by Megan Bannen

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Teen Killers Club by Lily Sparks

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard

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The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

This marvelously creepy horror graphic novel starts with a man’s death by fire where a strange dog-like demon stays to witness and then reports back to a woman. That same woman has a teenager in the back of her car, hooded and kidnapped. Later at the hospital, it is clear that the man survived after all, but is terribly burned. The doctor helping him is surprised by a strange figure with two heads and a body sewn together who demands her help. With such strange things afoot, the story moves to Mona, a 10-year-old girl who gets caught up as the world turns to chaos around her. After being left home alone on Halloween, Mona discovers a huge horned creature on her couch. Running away, she tries to reach the police station and takes a short cut through the cemetery. It is there that she meets the others who will join her in her Halloween quest: a vampire, a ghoul, and a living doll. Halloween is just getting started!

A warning first of all, this is not a graphic novel for 10-year-olds, even though the protagonist is that young. Save this one for teenagers who will revel in its grotesque creatures and gore. The panels include maiming, death and dismemberment vividly shown, and often done with a sly sense of humor. This book offers a demon horde determined to take over the world with only a handful of teens and children to try to stop them and one rather inept mummy. The plot offers a satisfying adventure and hero’s journey through a landscape of horrors with pacing that adds to the humor as well as the fright.

Drawn in black and white, the illustrations are captivatingly macabre. Even the human characters like Mona have over-large heads, tiny bodies and eyes that look right at readers. Howard leans into the gross factor, creating gore in black ink that you swear is actually blood red. With a diverse cast of characters, including Mona’s parent who uses the pronouns they/them.

Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

2020 Teens’ Top Ten

YALSA has announced the 2020 Teens’ Top Ten, a list nominated by teens and also voted on by them. Nominations for the 2021 Teens’ Top Ten are open until December 31st. Here are the titles on the Top Ten List:

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Broken Throne by Victoria Aveyard

Lovely War by Julie Berry

The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780063013452)

The current Young People’s Poet Laureate has compiled a collection of over 100 of her poems. It is a mixture of both previous published poems and new ones that have not been published before. Though some date back to the beginning of her stellar career and others are newer, there is a strong consistency across the collection with their eye towards hope combined with a strong sense of truth and honesty. Nye also has a way of focusing on the small and mundane in our lives and bringing out the wonder, including flour sifters, toddler comments, and cat food.

I bookmarked far too many of the poems, looking forward to returning to them again. While I had my distinct favorites (and lots of them) there were no poems in this collection that disappointed. The entire collection work both as a whole and as its separate parts. It provides a great introduction to Nye’s poetry.

Perhaps Nye’s greatest quality is her refusal to speak down to children or to simplify her poetry for them. She asks them to stretch to understand them, but not in confusing ways or using esoteric language. The concepts are fascinating, the poems leading the reader but not in a straight line, her poems more of a journey.

A gorgeous collection of poetry from one of the best. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement cover image

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

This historical graphic novel takes a modern-day teen and puts her back in time. Kiku is vacationing with her mother in San Francisco, when she first travels through time back to World War II. As the mists form around her, she finds herself watching her grandmother play her violin as a teen. It happens again the next morning, when Kiku finds herself joining the line of Japanese-American people heading for the internment camps. Those experiences were shorter. But then Kiku finds herself back in time for a longer period as she experiences the internment camps herself. She lives near her grandmother, but can’t bring herself to actually meet her face to face. As Kiku witnesses and actually lives the experiences of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps, seeing how they suffered, the restrictions, the injustice but also the communities that were formed in the camps.

Hughes uses a dynamic mix of modern and historical in this graphic novel. She takes the sensibilities of a modern teen and allows readers to see the world through Kiku’s eyes. When Kiku is stuck in time, readers get to experience the full horror of the internment camps and what our country did to Japanese-Americans. Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. She also keep hope alive as well, showing Kiku making friends and also developing a romantic relationship with a girl she meets.

The art is done in full color throughout. The color palette does change between modern day and the internment camps, moving from brighter colors to more grim browns, grays and tans. Hughes uses speech bubbles as well as narrative spaces that let Kiku share her thoughts. There are no firm frames here, letting colors dictate the edges of the panels.

Timely and important, this is a look at what we can learn from history and stop from happening now. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

2020 National Book Award Finalists

The finalists for the National Book Award have been announced. The awards go to the best of the year’s adult fiction, adult nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature. The winners in each category will be announced on November 18th. Here are the finalists for the Young People’s Literature category:

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed